Week 9 – In High Culture

August 11, 2014 – August 17, 2014

On 15th of August, India observed and celebrated its 68th Independence Day. Among many subjects in my life about whose certainty I am never confirmed and never want to be confirmed is also the subject of whether I being a patriotic gentleman or an ungrateful Indian. I have always maintained a very fine distinction in my life – of segregating my loyalty to the Mother India and to the Indian Government. I am not patriotic in modern sense of the word i.e. I will not always support unjust motives [which I also do not know what they may be -and therefore depends on time and events] of my country’s government, however I have an unflinching loyalty towards the land of India- the land where dharma was propounded. As such, this loyalty extends beyond the current political borders of Mother India. This loyalty extends to whole of Indian subcontinent – from Pakistan in West to Burma in the East, and from Afghanistan in North to Sri Lanka in the South. India, whose official name in Sanskrit is Bharata or Bharatavarsha, has always been referred to the Indian subcontinent, by Persians or by Greeks or by the Turko-Mongol invaders or by the British. The ancient Sanskrit epics, literature, stories, myths, and legends have names of the cities, of the kingdoms, of the Kings and of all other characters et al from all over the subcontinent. However, I am not blind to modern political reality too. The current Republic of India encompasses most of the ancient Indian heritage and to that ancient heritage I feel deeply associated with.

The new Indian Prime Minister gave a rousing conversational speech to 1.30 billion Indians from ramparts of Red Fort. He chided, he requested, he begged, he scolded, he inspired, he asked, and he forced us all to act, to recall our ancient heritage, to act accordingly, to shun violence, to act justly, to respect women, to ensure their emancipation, to maintain cleanliness and to achieve a common goal of prosperity of humanity. Republic of India is a 67 year old institution whereas the spirit and soul of India is timeless, in same sense as the Krishna’s message in Mahabharata of the immortality of the soul and mortality of the body.

I read brilliant literature this week in forms of critical essays (classical and modern), plays, epics and books. One essay that I read was In praise of idleness by Bertrand Russell. At first sight, I found the title funny and totally opposite to my another parallel reading these days – of Gita. Gita lays stress on Karma– Action – whereas Russell’s essay extolls virtue of idleness, but only as opposed to the work done for economic well-being. Therefore, I argued that idleness may be a form of Karma too. Karma in Gita is not just any work, it also refers to the duties and responsibilities.  Also, Russell makes a very weirdly convincing case for idleness, and why work – the work for economic well-being – must not be overdone. If anything, read the essay for old world charm in prose of Russell.

Another brilliant essay that I read was In praise of Folly. I particularly admired the use of hypotaxis – making irony, wit and satire- more scathing and subtle at same time. The paragraph especially urging the readers to recourse to Folly, in case they want to have children was so laden with satire and wit that I couldn’t help reading it again and again, so as to learn the art of writing satire from it.

For sake of reading and for sake of Charles Dickens, I read A Christmas Carol. Again. I wish I had that same power as Dickens of building powerful imagery of a city landscape or time of a day through convincing words. I went back to A Christmas Carol to learn how Dickens synthesised his prose. The e-book also accompanied the original manuscript of Dickens and it showed that Dickens wasn’t prone to too many deletions or editings, and was accomplished in his craft.

If you wish to understand nonsense of the world through lense of Absurdism, do read Waiting for Godot, a play on nothing by Samuel Beckett. This play is essentially a play that conveys nothing. Then, during the weekend, I bought Gurcharan Das’ Difficulty of being Good-The Subtle Art of Dharma. I did wonder on the title. I was perplexed whether Dharma is an art or an action or an artful action. Gurcharan Das’ scholarly book explaining Dharma through analysis of epic of Mahabharata is worth accolades. The author has so lucidly woven the Western philosophy with the ideas explained, enacted or described in Mahabharata that I did sit down to reflect on why I should do good. I am neither a moralist nor am I a moral supremacist. I am also not amoral. I also do not approve of moral objectivism. I do have inclination on moral nihilism. Dharma is exactly that philosophy. It encompasses the “just” action or “righteous” actions subject to times and life of an individual.

In several places in Mahabharata, both seemingly moral and amoral characters give perfect explanations for their actions and align it to the mystical Dharma. Mahabharata, at several places, considers no action as intrinsically amoral or immoral (moral nihilism). Then, it goes a step further, and tries to align the morality of an action with the larger good (utilitarianism) subjecting them to surroundings, life and times of an individual (covering aspects of moral subjectivism, moral realism and moral relativism). Mahabharata is also an Absurdist story. It is very common to find in Mahabharata the characters such as Yudhishthira who, after a bloodied war that killed more than 2.5 million people within 18 days to win back their “rightful” throne, feels the war was futile and that it was fought for nothing, and plans to renounce the world.

Well, the week was well spent in high culture and solitude. Whether solitude leads to the high culture or the high culture leads to solitude, who can tell?

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About Rahul

Read my blog to discover me.
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